AN INTERVIEW WITH TAYLOR M. DOOLEY
Star of Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up
By Sarah Elaine
Sarah Elaine: You are a company member at Dad’s Garage Theatre Company, how does your improv and comedy background factor into your work on scripted materials?
Taylor Dooley: Well, it’s interesting because this show is a one-person show, but normally with scripted material improv helps tremendously because it teaches you to be a terrific listener, especially on stage with other actors. Improv helps you actually pay attention, and you’re reacting truthfully in the moment. As far as with this particular show, I think my comedic training helps a great deal. I see this show like a piece of music, right, and you must learn how to play it and hit every note appropriately. There are comedic moments that are so reliant on timing that without previous knowledge on comedic works, the delivery would just be all off. With this piece a lot of the comedy comes from the truth of it. Yes, there are some outlandish characters, but it’s the truth and authenticity in how the world looks to and is relayed by a girl in fourth grade, and that’s where the training in comedy helps because I know how to play the different moments. It’s like I have this bag of tools that helps me analyze comedic writing like “I know what this is,” or “I know why this is funny.” I just have to figure out how to deliver it correctly to get the best response.
SE: How does your approach in working on a solo piece like Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up differ from plays with multiple actors?
TD: I think the biggest difference was I was memorized before the first rehearsal. That was honestly the first time I have ever done anything like that. Well, I will become familiar with the character, but I have never come in fully memorized because memorization is so much easier when your going through the moments and blocking of the show that it becomes part of your muscle memory. But with this piece, it was like “okay, I’m memorizing a 46- page speech with some colorful moments.” But, honestly, that really wasn’t too challenging because I set a schedule for myself every day. What’s interesting though is once I got into the rehearsal, and we started adding movement, it all just left me. Everything I had memorized seemed to just disappear. But this rehearsal process has been like that: almost backwards in my brain and I love it because it’s so challenging. We literally just scored it and added full movement in the last couple of days. We have been in rehearsals for two weeks, so it seems as if things have come much later than with a multiple actor show. What’s funny is I also find myself not creating good stage pictures even though it’s just me on stage. I do not want to be upstaged by the character I am talking to, so I often find myself reaching out to Rachel, our director, for help, and she has been so great! If you don’t know this about me, I am a perfectionist. This show has been so fun to tackle, and I have enjoyed it tremendously.
SE: This play touches on family experiences and memories, did you see many parallels with your life?
TD: Okay, wow! Let’s just jump right in. So, number one, I am from a very small town called Free Home, Georgia. I had a very thick southern accent as a kid. In Free Home, we had some fantastical people around; a lot in my family so that’s fun. Funnily enough, the dad in the show is a perfect mix of my step-dad and father; like if they had a baby it would be this character. Aside from the characters, there are actually some similar experiences the young girl and I have had. There is actually a scene where my character hitchhikes (my mom doesn’t know this and she would freak) but I once hitchhiked and had a very similar dangerous experience. There are parallels all over the place. This show’s major theme is coming to grips with morality and what we leave behind. My father, three weeks ago, was put in hospice and given only a couple weeks to live. And just like my character I am going back and remembering all of these things about my dad that were just so terrifically wonderful. Talk about synchronicity! This piece is just so cathartic for me; man, it’s helping me understand people. You know, the big line in the show is “We don’t know how lucky we are.” It’s true, and it’s realizing when things are good, we have to take a step back and realize how good we have it.
SE: What is the most surprising thing about this play that you’ve discovered so far?
TD: Rachel the director sent a list of all the locations in the show, and it turns out there were like 50 locations. It just goes to show how much work and specificity goes into creating a one-woman show. Because it is one character, I really feel like we had to paint the picture of setting for the audience to make it come alive. We looked up pictures of these settings, like the Florida State penitentiary, and we looked up to see if there actually is a Hardees across the street to make each location come alive for me. I do take some liberty with some of the characters, but I ended up having around 20 pages of notes because of all the backstories I created for the characters. I guess I didn’t realize how specific and thought-out this show was going to be. But, it was very important to me to create real relatable characters and not just generalizations of the southern stereotype.
SE: Why should the audience see this show?
TD: One of the biggest statements in this show “Everyone deserves a defender.” In the current political climate, whatever side of the aisle you’re on, that statement rings true. I think it allows people to develop empathy for almost every character you see on stage and some of those characters are serial killers. Yes, people do some really bad things, but they also come from really bad environments. This show demonstrates how everyone lives in the grey, and this show really taps into that without being heavy handed like “this is a message” you know? And being able to tell this story through a sweet, innocent fourth grader allows your guard to go down, and it becomes a story in which everyone can relate.